The film was produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures and received a total gross of $79,817,937 at the United States (US) box office.
In a temple in an unknown location in northeastern Tibet, a young boy with mystical abilities — the Golden Child — receives badges of station and demonstrates his power to the monks of the temple by reviving a dead eastern rosella, which becomes a constant companion. A band of villains led by a mysterious man, Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance), breaks into the hidden temple, slaughters the monks and abducts the boy.
Some time afterwards, a young woman named Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis) watches a Los Angeles TV show in which social worker Chandler Jarrell (Eddie Murphy) talks about his latest case, a missing girl named Cheryll Mosley. She seeks him out the next day and informs him of the kidnapping of the Golden Child and that he is the 'Chosen One' who would save the Child. Chandler does not take this seriously, even after the astral form of the Child and his bird familiar begin following him.
Cheryll Mosley is found dead from blood loss, near an abandoned house smeared with Tibetan graffiti and a pot full of blood-soaked oatmeal. Kee Nang reveals to Chandler that this house was a holding place for the Child and introduces Chandler to Doctor Hong, a mystic expert, and Kala (a creature half dragon, half woman, who remains hidden behind a screen).
The three track down a motorcycle gang, the Yellow Dragons, which Cheryll had joined, and Chinese restaurant owner Tommy Tong, a henchman of Numspa, to whom Cheryll had been 'sold' for her blood, used to make the Child vulnerable to earthly harm. Tong, however, is killed by Numspa as a potential traitor. Still not taking the case too seriously, Chandler is drawn by Numspa into a controlled dream, where he receives a burn mark on his arm. Numspa presents his demands: the Ajanti Dagger (a mystic weapon which is capable of killing the Golden Child) in exchange for the boy. Chandler finally agrees to help, and he and Kee Nang spend the night together.
Chandler and Kee travel to Tibet, where Chandler is swindled by an old amulet seller, who is revealed as the High Priest of the temple where the dagger is kept hidden and, subsequently, Kee's father. In order to obtain the blade, Chandler has to pass a test: an obstacle course in a bottomless cavern whilst carrying a glass of water without spilling a drop. With luck and wits, Chandler recovers the knife and even manages to bring it past customs into the United States.
Numspa and his henchmen attack Chandler and Kee. The Ajanti Dagger is lost to the villains, and Kee takes a crossbow bolt meant for Chandler; she dies in his arms, confessing her love for him. Doctor Hong and Kala offer him hope: as long as the sun shines upon Kee, the Child might be able to save her.
Chandler, with the help of the Child's memory from his abduction, locates Numspa's hideout and retrieves the dagger with the help of Til, one of Numspa's men converted to good by the Child, and frees the boy. When Chandler confronts Numspa, the latter reveals his true face as a demon from hell. Chandler and the Child escape the hideout, only to be tracked down by the demon in a warehouse. Chandler loses the dagger when the warehouse collapses, but Numspa is buried under a chunk of falling masonry. Chandler and the Child escape and head to Doctor Hong's shop where Kee is being kept.
As the two approach Kee's body, a badly injured but berserk Numspa attacks Chandler, but the amulet the Old Man sold Chandler blasts the dagger from Numspa's hand. The Child uses his magic to place the dagger back into Chandler's hands, and Chandler stabs Numspa through the heart, destroying him. The Child then uses the last ray of sunlight and his powers to bring Kee back from the dead. The three take a walk discussing the Child's return to Tibet and (as Chandler jokingly suggests) the boy's prospective fame as a stage magician.Eddie Murphy as Chandler Jarrell
J. L. Reate as The Golden Child
Charles Dance as Sardo Numspa
Charlotte Lewis as Kee Nang
Victor Wong as "Monty Hall" The Old Man
Randall "Tex" Cobb as Til
James Hong as Doctor Hong
Shakti Chen as Kala
Tau Logo as Yu
Tiger Chung Lee as Khan
Pons Maar as Fu
Peter Kwong as Tommy Tong
Wally Taylor as Detective Boggs
Eric Douglas as Yellow Dragon
Charles Levin as TV Host
Marilyn Schreffler (voice) as Kala
Frank Welker (voice) as The Thing and The Dark Lord
Dennis Feldman, a professional photographer whose only writing credit was Just One of the Guys, wrote a script called The Rose of Tibet, which he planned as "a Raymond Chandler movie with supernatural elements." It attracted Hollywood's attention and after a bidding war Paramount Pictures purchased the script for $300,000.
Although the character of The Golden Child is portrayed and treated as a boy throughout the movie, the part was played by actress Jasmine Reate (credited as "J.L. Reate").
John Carpenter was originally scheduled to direct the film, but dropped out and would later direct Big Trouble in Little China, a film with similar Chinese mysticism themes (Chinese American actors Victor Wong, James Hong, and Peter Kwong appear in both films). Starring Kurt Russell, Carpenter's project was reported to have been rushed through post-production to ensure a premiere date that preceded The Golden Child.
Mel Gibson was originally selected to play the role of Chandler Jarrell; but when Gibson was unavailable, the producers selected Murphy and transformed the movie from a serious adventure drama into a comedy.
Gene LeBell makes a small cameo appearance as a drunk member of the "Yellow Dragons" biker gang.
Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future) was originally set to provide the music score for the film but turned the project down. Paramount then turned to John Barry, who had just come off his award-winning score for Out of Africa. Barry then composed and recorded a complete score. However, during post-production, Barry also left the project when both differences with the producers and test screening feedback presented considerable challenges for the composer. The test audience reaction had led the producers to consider replacing Barry's score with new music by Michel Colombier that, in contrast to Barry's work, was mostly "synthpop" (although there were some brief orchestral passages throughout). However, whilst Barry was ultimately superseded, some of his musical cues remain in the final cut of the film and one track, "Wisdom of the Ages", appeared on the first soundtrack release issued by Capitol Records.
In 2011, La-La Land Records released a limited edition 3-CD soundtrack set containing the entirety of both Barry's mostly unused score (on disc one), and Colombier's final theatrical score (on disc two), in addition to an exclusive Barry-composed song, sung by emerging (at the time) composer, Randy Edelman (Kindergarten Cop). The songs that had previously been released on Capitol's first soundtrack in 1986 were also featured in the multi-disc set.
The following pieces of music appear in the film alongside Colombier's score:Ann Wilson - "The Best Man in the World" (Music by John Barry; lyrics by Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson and Sue Ennis)
Ratt - "Body Talk" (Composed by Stephen Pearcy, Warren DeMartini and Juan Croucier)
"Wisdom of the Ages" (Composed and conducted by John Barry)
"The Chosen One" (Composed by Michel Colombier and performed by Robbie Buchanan)
"Puttin' on the Ritz" (Composed by Irving Berlin)
"Another Day's Life" (Composed by David Wheatley)
Released in December 1986, The Golden Child was a box office success. It earned USD$79,817,937 in the US alone, making it the eighth biggest film of the year. However, the film was considered a disappointment by the studio when compared to Murphy's previous film, Beverly Hills Cop (1984), which garnered USD$234,760,478 at the US box office.
The film received negative reviews from critics, as it holds a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.